My problem with Aadhaar

“Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric ID system, with over 1.19 billion enrolled members as of 30 Nov 2017, representing over 99% of Indians aged 18 and above. World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer described Aadhaar as ‘the most sophisticated ID programme in the world’”

Let me start by saying I totally like the idea of Aadhaar. The idea that almost everyone in India would have an ID that would work as proof of identity in the most scenario and it would be impossible to fake. For a country like India with its complexity and population, to get this done properly has huge benefits. Not only for the individual but also for the government and corporations. The whole identification process would become seamless.

My concern is right now it has become more than what it was plan for. Aadhaar is not just an ID card now, it is becoming a monster with all data linked to it. The government has done a fabulous job in getting most Indian to make one. Now it is forcing everyone to link it to all his other data like bank account/phone/tax etc. In itself if you think about it, it is fine if government wants to have everything under one umbrella, the concern is data breach. Once Aadhaar becomes all powerful then if there is a data breach that would be a huge disaster.

Recently I read an article where Bill Gates talks about Aadhaar a bit, very interesting what he says. Here are some quotes “Aadhaar is just a 12-digit lie detector. You may claim to be someone and Aadhaar can tell if you’re speaking the truth or lying. Yes, there are many applications linked to Aadhaar and there are records related to them. Privacy issues can come up with the applications that get built on top of Aadhaar. But none of the records reside on the Aadhaar system itself. The irony is that I often tell Nandan (Nilekani) that if I had built Aadhaar, I would have created it with many more inbuilt capabilities, but Nandan was very careful about not intruding on privacy.”

So the chief architect of Aadhaar Nandan Nilekani, who I respect because of what he has done with Infosys, had the idea from the very beginning of what it should be, at the core a lie detector. Problem is he is no longer in charge, the people now may be modifying the code as we speak and including all sorts of data in it. Another big issue is transparency, information flow has always been a big problem in India, many people say many different things and common people just do not understand fully. Most of the time they just do as told. So there is less clarity on the scope of Aadhaar and many doubts.

There are currently multiple cases being fought in the courts right now regarding this. Fundamental to them is the right to privacy, people are arguing that the government cannot force them to link their other data to it. They fear that their data are going to be misused. We will see what the court says, but people’s opinion is split now about Aadhaar. Many people legitimately fear(including me) and there are equally many sound people who argue that these are fears are baseless.

There have already been few data breaches mainly due to mischievous people who had access to the data and who leak them. The fear is there will be lot more and at larger scale, these are not good signs especially when the people in charge refuse to acknowledge that there are some problems.

I had a personal issue with it which raises my doubt. My dad had linked the gas subsidy to his bank in Canara bank long time back, he was getting the subsidy in that bank every time no issue. Then we open an ICICI account for him and connected the Aadhaar to it also(as is needed). The subsidy money started going to ICICI instead of Canara! This happened without our permission! and if I had not checked I would never have known as there was no notification. This kind of things creates doubt about how the system was developed and how its getting implemented now.

In my opinion, Aadhaar is a great concept but currently, it feels like something is broken with it. It is too important to not be near perfect. The government has to get this right. I hope they take security issue seriously and fix the loopholes.